Blog Post

Culture After Crisis: How Clinics Must Evolve to Support Employees in the Coming Months

Being a strong leader has always been important, but on the other side of a global pandemic, it’s essential.

Breanne Krager
5 min read
June 5, 2020
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“If you don’t reimagine your business’re not paying attention. The world will change without you.”

Rose Marcario, the CEO of Patagonia, shared this advice in a recent interview with LinkedIn News. As therapists and clinic owners begin to assess the future of their practices—especially now that clinics have begun to reopen—this sentiment couldn’t be more relevant.

Marcario goes on to say, “The way I think about this whole process that we’re going through right now is really in three sections, which [are] stabilize, recover, reimagine.” And this reimagination doesn’t only include reframing operations. It extends to all aspects that impact a clinic’s viability—culture being chief among them.

Considering that we’ve all endured a seismic shift in the way we live and work, clinic leaders—now more than ever—need to think about the type of culture they are creating to support, engage, and motivate their people. After all, when your people feel supported—and fully bought into your clinic’s mission and vision—they will become allies in overcoming any challenge, no matter how massive. As you reimagine your culture, here are few things to consider:

Establish a clear way forward—together.

Recovering and stabilizing your practice on the other side of the current global crisis requires developing and carrying out a clear plan of action. According to a recent Gallup report on leading through a crisis, “If leaders have a clear way forward, human beings are amazingly resilient. There is a documented ‘rally effect.’”

Keep in mind, though, that this “rally effect” isn’t achieved in a silo. Your team has to play an active role in developing your organization’s course of action. The more engaged employees are, the more connected they are to the mission of the business. And when that kind of alignment exists, beautiful things happen. For starters, staff look forward to coming to work and patients reap the benefits of a more positive experience.

The Harvard Business Review reported on this correlation, citing studies by the Queens School of Business and Gallup Organization that found disengaged workers have 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. And in a healthcare setting, decreasing the margin for error couldn’t be more critical.

Being a strong leader and prioritizing team engagement is important, period. But on the other side of a pandemic, it becomes paramount. People—not profits—deserve to be put first.

Ramp up internal communications.

This crisis—just like the ones that have challenged humankind in the past—has a life cycle. And knowing what employees need in order to feel safe during each stage is crucial to their morale and your ability to maintain a strong culture. As COVID-19 starts to wind down, new concerns and questions may arise—like, “How does the business recover?” Or, “What will rehab therapy care look like going forward?” This represents another opportunity to double down on internal communications to not only gain clarity around the questions your team may be internalizing, but also demonstrate transparency in sharing where you—and the business—stand. Keep in mind, if you’ve had to furlough or lay off staff members during this time, anxieties around future job security are likely high.

Employees take great stock in what, and how often, their employers communicate with them—especially in times of crisis. According to a 10-country study conducted in March 2020 by the global public relations firm Edelman, 63% of respondents felt their employer was the most credible source of information about COVID-19. In fact, they trusted their employer over government websites and traditional media.

Let staff input guide operational changes.

Open, honest, and frequent communication with your staff will not only help bring awareness to issues that may need to be addressed, but it will also give you a direct line of sight into employee expectations—which will be important as you reimagine business goals, policies, and workflows. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What life obligations are affecting employees’ work at the moment?
  • What do employees need to feel safe and better supported?
  • What changes have employees made that they’d like to keep once the crisis has ended?
  • Have there been unexpected positive outcomes from this crisis?

Share positive messaging to boost morale.

There will be setbacks and sacrifices still to come as we realize the full impact of COVID-19. Although employers still have a duty to be transparent with their teams, making an effort to channel positive sentiments that offset worries and concerns can do wonders in engendering the trust, stability, compassion, and hope employees need most right now. Uplifting messages and stories can instill resilience and encourage a broader sense of community—something that has been scarce these past few months. So, celebrate the wins (personal or professional), as their impact will be palpable—regardless of how big or small they are.


Lead with compassion and flexibility.

As much as we are in this crisis together, the reality is that every individual has had his or her own unique experience and set of challenges to overcome. And now, just as the general public has begun to acclimate to these changes, we’re facing a slew of new ones as the world begins to reopen. Employees who are considering heading back into the clinic may be wondering:

  • Is it safe?
  • How will social distancing be put into practice while at work?
  • Will I still have a job if I’m not ready or able to come to work yet?
  • Will I be able to fulfill the responsibilities my role requires of me?

These concerns are not unfounded, and navigating decisions about the future can be extremely taxing. Experts actually refer to this situation as “decision fatigue.” And the consequences of COVID-19 are exacerbating this type of exhaustion due to:

  • the enormous amount of information people are ingesting daily;
  • the pressures they put on themselves to make smart, safe decisions not only for themselves, but also for their families and communities; and
  • the massive change their daily schedules have already undergone.

To help employees overcome these new challenges and mitigate “decision fatigue,” employers must exercise a high level of empathy and flexibility. Remembering that everyone is human will go a long way toward fostering this.

Treat people like people.

Just because businesses are opening doesn’t mean everyone is able to resume the rigors of “business as usual.” Whether employees are unable to find childcare, or they have a pre-existing condition that puts them at high risk for COVID-19, the challenges that can impede an employee’s ability to work a full week—or work at all—are many and varied. That said, employers should be prepared to not only empathize with the full breadth of their employees’ needs, concerns, and emotions, but also proactively offer solutions. For instance, you might consider:

  • implementing flexible sick leave, paid time off, and support policies and practices;
  • connecting staff members to employee assistance programs and community resources to help them navigate emotional and financial stressors;
  • offering flexible scheduling or reduced pay rather than laying them off;
  • providing bonuses (if possible) to further alleviate financial stress; and
  • offering job placement or relocation support if you’re unable to keep certain staff.

There are benefits for clinic leaders who make a concerted effort to put people’s needs first, too. In fact, helping others boosts happiness and reduces stress—something everyone can benefit from, even long after COVID-19 has passed.

Emphasize mental health and wellbeing.

Currently, the spectrum of emotion knows no bounds—and navigating a multitude of new emotions while trying to make sense of all that’s going on has been a lot, to say the least. We discussed the importance of prioritizing mental health in the workplace at length in this blog post. However, it’s worth reviewing the main points considering that more and more people are suffering from poor mental health due to the pandemic. In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that “more than four in 10 adults overall (45%) feel that worry and stress related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health.”

Fortunately, there are many ways employers can support their employees, including:

  • offering mental health self-assessment tools;
  • providing free or subsidized clinical mental health screenings from a qualified mental health professional;
  • providing health insurance plans that cover (or reduce the cost of) mental health counseling and mental illness medication; and
  • hosting depression and stress management workshops that offer actionable suggestions (e.g., mindfulness training) with programs like Ten Percent Happier and Headspace.

Encourage physical activity.

Rehab therapy professionals understand the benefits of movement better than most. In addition to offering your employees services that promote better mental health, consider implementing programs that get them moving, too. After all, placing a greater emphasis on integrating fitness into work culture can help lower employee healthcare costs, mitigate absenteeism, decrease stress, encourage better work performance, and foster teamwork.

Examples of ways companies are helping employees make healthy choices for their bodies—especially as many straddle both in-clinic and at-home work schedules—include:

  • launching an annual company step challenge;
  • providing employees with at-home workout plans and equipment; and
  • distributing stipends for employees to purchase a home workout streaming service of their choice (this is an especially great idea right now, as many of these services are still being offered at discounted rates).

Support individual development.

Not only have clinic operations shifted, but staff roles and responsibilities will inevitably evolve as well. While it’s standard practice to have job descriptions clearly defined, many employers have had to restructure roles in response to COVID-19. Adopting a more idiosyncratic approach to job roles can promote unplanned organizational learning as well as allow employees to play more to their strengths. This can help companies not only get through this crisis, but also be better prepared for whatever lies ahead.

You may worry that allowing employees to have a greater hand in choosing their responsibilities will result in other important tasks falling to the wayside. On the contrary, encouraging employees to explore their talents and interests as they relate to their jobs can help not only improve their performance, but also prevent them from burning out.

At the end of the day, your people are your greatest asset, and if they’re not feeling supported or heard, your business will suffer more than just a dip in productivity. And in a healthcare setting, the consequences of a toxic workplace can impact more than just employee morale. Bottom line: If you’re looking to make a positive difference in your patients’ lives (as we know you are) you need to look after your staff as well.

Have questions on how to create an intentional and positive clinical workspace? Leave ’em in the comment section below, and we will do our best to answer them.

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